By Rone Tempest
— June 18, 2013

Citing ongoing concurrent investigations by the Inspector General and the Department of Justice, the federal Department of Energy has denied a WyoFile public records appeal for details about the suspension of the $9.9 million Two Elk stimulus project in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

WyoFile had requested information related to Two Elk developer North American Power Group, Greenwood Village, Colorado; North American president Michael J. Ruffatto and Wyoming-based North American Power vice president Brad Enzi.

The original request, filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act, was denied on April 23 by R. Paul Detwiler, chief counsel for the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory that supervises the Two Elk carbon sequestration research grant.

Following protocol, WyoFile appealed to DOE headquarters to reverse the decision. “We feel everything we requested is public record since it involves public monies that fall under the transparency requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” said WyoFile editor in chief Dustin Bleizeffer.

But in a four-page letter dated May 23, director of the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals Poli A. Marmolejos rejected the WyoFile appeal. His decision, he said, was based in part on new information received by his office “that cannot be disclosed as it may compromise the pending investigation.”

“Our review of that information,” Marmolejos wrote, “further supports our conclusion that release of the requested information could reasonably be expected to cause some foreseeable harm to the pending enforcement proceeding.”

Marmolejos cited a May 15 email from Detwiler stating that the National Energy Technology Laboratory had been repeatedly instructed by the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh and by the DOE Inspector General to “not release any documents regarding the cooperative agreements with North American Power Group or DOE’s suspension of those agreements.”

The January 2012 suspension of the $9 million Two Elk stimulus grant to study the feasibility of storing CO2 in geological formations in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, followed a September 11, 2011, WyoFile story about exceptionally high salaries paid from stimulus funds to Ruffatto, a wealthy Colorado socialite with homes in Denver and Newport Beach, Ca., and Enzi, the son of Wyoming’s senior U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. Sen. Enzi is an outspoken opponent of the federal stimulus program that was launched by the Obama administration in an effort to create new jobs and revive the moribund economy.

In April of this year, WyoFile reported that the DOE had suspended the Two Elk project after officials discovered that North American had not drilled a deep exploratory well that was supposed to be the centerpiece of the research study. WyoFile also reported that Stanford University and Montana State University, both originally affiliated with the Two Elk research effort, have since stopped participation and that Paul Skirtich, an assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh who specializes in fraud cases, is heading the Department of Justice case related to Two Elk.

WyoFile’s coverage of North American Power Group and its activities in Wyoming, including the saga of a long-planned, never-built $1 billion Two Elk power plant south of Gillette dates to the news site’s initial edition in 2008. Stories in this continuing series can be found under Special Reports on the WyoFile site.

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Click here for WyoFile’s full collection of reports related to the Two Elk project.

Rone Tempest

Rone Tempest was a longtime national and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. In 2004 he was part of a team of reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the massive wildfires in Southern...

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